Proposed Washington bill would create alert system for missing indigenous people

Jan 19, 2022: A Washington Democratic representative and the only Native American member of the state legislature, Debra Lekanoff is working to resolve the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women.

Earlier this month she helped introduce legislation that would implement an alert system specifically for missing Indigenous people.

In a 2018 report, the institute found that of the 29 states surveyed, Washington had the second highest number of cases of missing and murdered American Indian and Alaska Native women and girls.

More than four times as many indigenous women go missing than white women in Washington, according to the Urban Indian Health Institute in Seattle. House Bill 1725 would help bring closure to some of those families.

State agencies have reported 107 cases to Washington State Patrol, but the number is substantially higher because many go unreported.

If approved, the system would be the first of its kind in the US. This will not only help to locate the individual and improve the relationship between law enforcement and local authorities, but will also help raise awareness about the plight of missing local people, especially women and girls.

A member of the Spokane tribe, Kristin Wiles recalls how her friend, Sequoia, went missing when Wiles was a teenager. Sequoia was never seen again.

“It’s not something that’s uncommon unfortunately in our community,” Wiles said.

Wiles say this bill would give families an extra step to closure.

Now Rep. Debra Lekanoff with the 40th legislative district has proposed HB 1725 to change that.

“This little bill opens up the voices of those women, Native American women, who are being ripped from their families,” Lekanoff said.

The Washington State Patrol would need to create the alert in its system. When a Native person is reported missing, it could be broadcasted on digital highway billboards and social media. This is similar to the AMBER alert system used by law enforcement.

The bill still has a long way to go. It is in committee right now and lawmakers will hear the bill on Jan. 20.

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